With ultra cool sound and style and some beautiful performances, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive flashed us back to the eighties in a good way. Ryan Gosling’s deathly silent superhero reminded us with how little the best actors really need to speak; his quiet intelligence and unflinching power came through almost entirely by expression and deed. A while back I wondered who could possibly fill Clint Eastwood’s shoes—Gosling never even occurred to me. But after seeing his Driver, I only want to see more. After winning Refn the Best Director award at its Cannes premiere and Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor Albert Brooks, the film was largely deserted by the major award circuits, and perhaps for the best. Drive seems destined for cult status; I want to hide it away like a secret lover, kept to myself.
Though the DVD doesn’t have a proper commentary, there are several short featurette-type sections in the extras—along with those, this information was cobbled together with interview tidbits and news articles. The director has said he does plan on putting out a deluxe edition (the “Queen” version) within a year, including more in-depth analysis and interviews, so if you plan on buying the DVD you may want to wait.
1. Drive is based on the “neo-noir” novel of the same name by James Sallis. Hossein Amini (The Wings of the Dove, The Four Feathers) adapted the screenplay. Saying it was rare to be sent a book from a studio, Amini read the novel for the first time and found it “…very short, dark, almost like a poem. There was a subplot of Driver and the mob coming after him, but that was a small part of the whole thing.” The screenwriter said it was exciting to be able to explore the characters and to give them subplots and relationships that were not in the book.
2. Producer Marc Platt (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wanted), who along with Producer Adam Siegel optioned the novel, thinks what’s important to know about Driver is that he’s a guy who’s good at one thing and he has a code. He meets a girl, breaks his code and everything goes to shit. Of Driver, Siegel said, “He’s a man with a code—the book focused on (the code) right and wrong and the difference between legal and illegal. This character is only concerned with right and wrong. They both felt the idea of this masculine code was something that hadn’t been explored in a long time—not since some of the cinema classics like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Bullitt.
3. The film was originally going to star Hugh Jackman and be directed by Neil Marshall (The Descent, “Game of Thrones”). That interpretation didn’t move forward and in 2010, Ryan Gosling signed on; it was he who brought on Director Nicolas Winding Refn (Vahalla Rising, Bronson), who had previously done only one American film (Fear X). Gosling described watching Refn’s films as “…watching somebody step up to the plate and point for a home run before they even swung the bat.” Refn noted that Steve McQueen picked his Bullitt director and Lee Marvin, his Point Blank director. The actor and director met when Refn was a bit high on cold/flu medicine and Gosling recalled feeling like the director wasn’t interested. Gosling drove Refn home after their meeting and because it was so quiet, Gosling turned on the radio. REO Speedwagon’s I Can’t Fight This Feeling Anymore came on, Refn got tears in his eyes and started singing along, exclaiming “I know what this movie is, it’s a movie about a guy who drives around listening to pop music because it’s the only way he can feel.”
4. Marc Platt calls it “cosmic irony” that neither Refn nor scriptwriter Hossein Amini drive.
5. Refn says the film is dedicated to Chilean cult filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo). Jodorowsky once attempted to bring Frank Herbert’s Dune to the big screen (before David Lynch’s version)—he had plans to cast Orson Welles and Salvador Dalí and to have the score composed by Pink Floyd. (Dalí reportedly asked for $100,000 per hour and Welles required a gourmet chef.) Refn called Director Gaspar Noé (Irreversible, Enter the Void) for advice on the head smashing scene.
6. Refn’s process included days of character discussion with each actor; prior to rehearsal they spent time with the director at his home. Carey Mulligan, who had just broken up with her boyfriend, stayed with Refn—as did Hossein Amini. Amini had to do a lot of re-writing of the script, which had previously been written to do a $60 million action film for Universal. Refn’s budget was $15 million.
7. Bryan Cranston said he felt like on paper the character of Shannon was a lot like Burgess Merideth in Rocky, with an element of mentor and protege. Refn “insisted” on collaboration and Cranston had ideas and pitches of his own that were incorporated—he felt that Shannon talked too much and it was a nice contrast to Driver’s silence.
8. Adam Siegel said he never imagined Cary Mulligan (as Irene). She was a big fan of Refn’s and called saying she wanted to talk to the director about why she should be in the film. The character was originally supposed to be a Latina woman, but she was changed and a whole backstory for her was rewritten.
9. Oscar Isaac (Standard) said for him, the film was a completely unique experience. If the night before, he would say that he was unsure how to play a particular scene, Refn would tell him to figure it out and come up with suggestions. Isaac would come in the next day with ideas, they’d shoot it and if it didn’t come out just right, Refn would tell the crew to take five. The actor and director would sit and discuss the scene, “literally for an hour or two,” while the crew was taking a break. Of Standard, Carey Mulligan said, “On the page the character didn’t have much to him—you didn’t care about him much—but Oscar came in and changed everything, really made you have sympathy for the character.” Isaac said he wanted to make the character basically good, just a guy who made some wrong decisions in life.
10. Albert Brooks (Bernie Rose) also saw his character not as a villain, but rather a guy who has dealt with a lot of illegal events and was pushed into a corner. “When push comes to shove, it’s his life or someone else’s and he reacts like a caged animal. Brooks said it gave him something he’d never played before—he hadn’t ever killed anyone in a film. Brooks said Bernie and Nino reminded him of George and Lenny in Of Mice and Men.
11. When Ron Perlman first saw the script, no one knew where Nino came from or who he was. He and Refn “put flesh on the bones” and it became easier to play the character as time went on. Perlman was a huge fan of Brooks before ever working with him and said it was a “huge honor.”
12. Of the relationship between Driver and Irene, Siegel felt it was a love story pared down to the bare essentials, free of the usual fluff. Two people see each other and have a connection. Amini loved that the two want to do something so badly, but they’re both so repressed. He wanted the relationship to be all subtext—they way they feel about each other is all in how they look at each other and what they don’t say. The script writer said it was fun to write, almost like a silent film. Refn saw the love story as a fairy tale; a knight sees a damsel in distress…the evil prince comes home…now what will the knight do?
13. Stunt Coordinator Darrin Prescott noted that Ryan Gosling would have liked to do all his stunts. “He was way more capable of driving than what they wanted him to do—a really good stunt driver.” Gosling also chose, took apart and rebuilt Driver’s vehicle. The actor didn’t know anything about cars, but Refn said Gosling could have his pick. Gosling found a 1973 Chevy Malibu from a junkyard, took it apart and rebuilt everything but the transmission (completed by someone else because of time constraints).
Refn didn’t want typical car chases—it wasn’t what the film was about. Shooting inside the car the entire time was a “hefty challenge” and Prescott said he used every trick he ever learned to show speed and how good a driver the character was. Driver had knowledge of the streets, the city, the cops…he has a preplanned route. Being inside the car, experiencing it with him is thrilling—we get a sense of how smart and talented he is. Then later, Driver is challenged with unfamiliar roads in the desert, he has to think on his feet and demonstrate at high speeds how skilled he is. Refn had never filmed a crash before and wanted to make it special, so they did the reverse 270 maneuver. With the actress (Christina Hendricks) in the shot, it was “something really cool and different.”
14. Refn says that the song that describes the film is A Real Hero by College. “To me it was the story about a character, the protagonist, who lived in two worlds. By day he was a human being and by night he was a hero.”
The film was scored by Cliff Martinez (Traffic, Sex, Lies and Videotape, Contagion, The Limey), who composed fourteen of the film’s nineteen songs.
15. The director explains what he calls the “diver in the ocean of sharks” opening scene:
16. Costume Designer Erin Benach also created looks for Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson and Blue Valentine.
17. To allow Gosling to perform some of the stunt driving tricks, a shell was mounted on “drivable process trailer” called the Biscuit, Jr. The device is actually driven remotely from a pod, but it gives the actor the experience of driving.
18. Production Designer Beth Mickle (Cold Souls, An Englishman in New York) oversaw a forty person crew who built the apartment building and elevator set from scratch, a strip club and the interior of Bernie’s apartment. Mickle also worked with Gosling on Half Nelson and the actor pushed for her to be hired to work on Drive.
19. Considered a very visual director, Refn says he believes it is because he is dyslexic and didn’t learn to read until he was thirteen. “Images were always my understanding of storytelling. I’m always trying to tell a story as visually as possible because that’s how I enjoyed stories.”
20. The idea for Driver’s scorpion jacket came from Refn listening to the Kiss song I Was Made for Loving You; “Driver had to have a satin jacket that was like an armor, and the image of a scorpion evokes that sort of protection, I think. And, for some reason, the jacket feels like it fits perfectly with that KISS song. I can’t really explain why.”
Cindy Davis would drive Ryan Gosling anywhere he liked.